In the wake of a controversial and difficult General Conference, the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church have renewed a dormant tradition of writing an episcopal letter to the people, reflecting on the Conference and the future.
The United Methodist Reporter has the text of the letter in full. It includes celebration of an anti-malaira initiative and ecumenical partnerships; and acknowledgement of past sins against native peoples. After describing church moves towards globalizing its Book of Disciples and Social Principles, the bishops turned to the difficulties that embracing different voices raised:
The Episcopal address set the tone for the event, focusing on humility and lifting up our accomplishments. We heard from our laity an invitation to members to be more involved in making disciples and getting involved in ministries to bring the love of Christ to others. We heard our young people say they “are engaged in Christ’s journey with energy and love.” We also heard them say clearly that they do not want a divided church and urged us to “be in unity even if we do not have unanimity.” They give us hope for our future.
The body had difficult and challenging work before it as we acknowledged our differences over human sexuality. Amidst those differences, the delegates affirmed they want their bishops to lead and we found ourselves with an opportunity for a holy moment. We spoke candidly about what divides us and what our church might look like in the future if we dared to consider new possibilities. We offered a way forward, postponing decisions about sexuality matters and committing to having a different kind of global conversation that allows all voices to be heard.
Our differences do not keep us from being the body of Christ. They do not keep us from doing good in the world. They do not keep us from making a difference – and so we set forth bold new goals: to make a million new disciples of Jesus Christ; to engage 3 million new people to make a difference in the world; to transform 400 communities for vital abundant living; to reach a million children with lifesaving health interventions; and to double the number of vital congregations.
Most importantly, we affirmed our commitment to stay united. We proved that we are more than debates and divisions, more than rules and resolutions. We stood together as the body of Christ. As we reflect on our time in Portland, our prayer is for unity in the church for the advancement of our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As John Wesley reminded us, “Best of all, God is with us.”
The Conference accepted a recommendation from the Council of Bishops to suspend debate on issues of sexuality while a study is commissioned to study church regulations. From UMC.org:
“We accept our role as spiritual leaders to lead The United Methodist Church in a ‘pause for prayer’ — to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and to intentionally seek God’s will for the future,” said Council of Bishops president Bishop Bruce Ough in announcing the recommendation.
Read the complete text of the letter from the Council of Bishops here.
- On a lighter note: Episcopalians get a shout-out in a satirical take on the Portland conference.